Updated: Sunday, 08 December 2013 04:17 | By Agence France-Presse

O'Driscoll fires Leinster past Northampton

Brian O'Driscoll produced a sublime all-round performance to guide three-time European champions Leinster to a superb 40-7 away victory over Northampton on Saturday.

O'Driscoll fires Leinster past Northampton

Brian O'Driscoll, pictured on November 9, 2013, produced a sublime all-round performance to guide three-time European champions Leinster to a superb 40-7 away victory over Northampton

The 34-year-old Ireland centre was instrumental in a stunning win for the Irish province, for whom winger Luke Fitzgerald crossed for a hat-trick.

"We're very pleased, we set up a good foundation in a very good first half performance," O'Driscoll told Sky Sports.

"There were some big performances from the guys. The energy was fantastic."

Leinster raced out to a 12-0 lead after nine minutes, Fitzgerald opening the scoring after a dink through by O'Driscoll.

The winger was then on hand to finish off another slick midfield move with O'Driscoll providing a key pass backwards through his legs.

No 8 Jamie Heaslip crossed for Leinster's third after Rob Kearney drew the defence, and scrum-half Eoin Reddan side-stepped over for a bonus-point fourth try three minutes before half-time after Kearney had challenged Ken Pisi on a speculative bomb.

In the second period, O'Driscoll bagged one of his own, pouncing to intercept a loose pass.

The try left the centre just two tries off European Cup all-time try scorer Vincent Clerc, who has racked up 35 of his own.

Northampton scrum-half Lee Dickson grabbed a consolation try but Fitzgerald completed his hat-trick moments later after Springbok full-back Zane Kirchner managed a smart offload.

Earlier in the day, defending champions Toulon gained only their second away win of the season in edging Exeter 14-9 in a scrappy encounter.

The match, like all the others, were all preceded by a minute's silence for former South African president Nelson Mandela who died on Thursday.

The French side -- whose form has been patchy at best this season -- will be relieved that they got away with former England great Jonny Wilkinson having a rare off-day, missing four kicks though he did slot over the drop goal five minutes from time that gave them the 14-9 lead.

They top their group by a point from Welsh side Cardiff Blues after three games while Exeter, who were going down to their fourth successive defeat in all competitions, are third and Glasgow bottom.

Exeter took an early lead through a penalty but Toulon struck back with a superb try in the fifth minute as prop Florian Fresia went in on the right wing after a glorious offload by former All Black lock Ali Williams.

Wilkinson missed the conversion to leave it 5-3 to Toulon. However he landed a penalty in the 11th minute to make it 8-3 but his opposite number, Gareth Steenson, converted a penalty shortly afterwards to put the hosts within two points of the champions.

That was his last contribution as he went off to be replaced by 20-year-old Henry Slade.

Slade gave Exeter the lead shortly before half-time with a finely struck penalty and the half ended on an even lower note for Toulon as South African wing Bryan Habana pulled up in agony clutching his left hamstring on what was his debut in the competition.

Wilkinson had two chances to restore the lead to Toulon early in the second-half but missed both penalties from long distance -- and his unaccustomedly poor day with the boot continued as he sent another chance well wide of the posts with 20 minutes remaining.

Toulon, however, piled on the pressure and eventually regained the lead as Matt Giteau put over a penalty and Wilkinson chipped in with the drop goal to give them the crucial win.

Clermont, the side Toulon beat in last season's final, went top of their highly competitive pool with a comprehensive 32-11 win at home to Welsh side Scarlets.

The French side grabbed a bonus point to boot scoring four tries including a double from Fijian try machine Napolioni Nalaga.

They have a three-point lead over English side Harlequins, whose red hot form saw them record their fifth successive win with a 32-8 thrashing of expensively-assembled French side Racing-Metro, who sent on new signing Mike Phillips on the hour mark for his debut.

The English outfit, who are trying to become the first side to lose their opening two pool matches and qualify for the last eight, got a bonus point thanks to four tries with former All Black fly-half Nick Evans scoring one of them as he contributed 17 of their points.

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